Smart Ways to Vacation on a Budget

Written by Ari Bendersky
Written by Ari Bendersky

Ari Bendersky is a Chicago-based lifestyle journalist and content marketer specializing in food, wine, music, travel and wellness and the author of "1000 Food & Art Styling Ideas", published in Dec. 2013.

girl vacationing at the beach

With all of life's stresses, everyone needs a little time away now and again. Summer is approaching, and it's the perfect time to take a vacation, but unfortunately, many of us don’t have a lot of free time. We all talk about taking that dream vacation to Europe or the Caribbean. While that would be nice, sometimes just taking a few days off to decompress and regroup is what we really need.

If you have limited time and a limited budget, you can still have a fantastic vacation. You just have to time it right and find the best deals. Airlines and resorts often offer discounted off-peak rates. So if you're looking to go to the Caribbean or Mexico in the middle of winter, chances are you're going to pay more. But if you want to escape to the tropics during the summer, you might get lucky.

There are also plenty of apps that can help you find last-minute deals at hotels and resorts all over the world. So don't fret about not being able to get away. With a little patience and some research, in a few days you could find yourself relaxing on a beach in Costa Rica or strolling down the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

What's Your Vacation Budget?

First, determine how much time and money you can or want to spend. That will help narrow your search. And you'd be surprised how much just $500 can get you. You may have extra money in your savings account or a tax return you want to use to treat yourself to something nice. Or maybe you just got a bonus at work or closed a big deal. The last thing you want to do, however, is run up unnecessary credit card debt and end up paying for that vacation long after it ends.

Find Your Destination

The next step? Figure out where you want to go. If you're adventurous and spontaneous, more options open up. Whether you are traveling alone, with a significant other or with kids will also be a factor in where you go. You also need to consider where you live and how much time you have. If you live in Philadelphia and only have four days, trying to book a trip to Tokyo or Dubai might not make sense, since you'll spend half your time traveling. Think about exploring Savannah, GA, hitting Puerto Rico or maybe even boarding an overnight flight to London.

Helpful Vacation Planning Apps

A number of apps have launched in the last few years to help you look for great travel deals. Whether you're looking to fly, drive or cruise, hit a city or island, leave in a few weeks or tomorrow, you have a plethora of information right at your fingertips. Here are just a few of the better apps to get your vacation research started.

Hotel Tonight: This fantastic app compiles up-to-the-minute data on unsold rooms at hotels worldwide. Want to fly to New York, Sydney or Miami? You might score a great room at a discounted rate at the last minute. Download: Apple | Google Play

Hopper's Get The Flight Out: Think last-minute flights always cost an arm and a leg? Think again. Like Hotel Tonight, but for flights, Hopper's GTFO trolls available seats on a multitude of airlines to find open seats to numerous destinations all over the world. Want to be less spontaneous? Give Hopper your email and they'll keep you informed of great deals from your city. Download: Apple 

Hipmunk: This website and app compares top travel sites to compile your best travel options in flights, hotels and more. The easy-to-navigate interface lets you see the results and pick your best options without having to think too much. Hipmunk also offers a "Tonight Deals" option for last-minute bookings. Download: Apple | Google Play 

Airbnb: This revolutionary app allows people to open their homes to guests anywhere in the world. You can find an incredible apartment in Paris, a home in Napa or a room in New York, all at varying prices. Just do your homework on what's available in your price range. Download: Apple  | Google Play 

Last Minute Travel Deals: A one-stop discount travel shop, this app lets you search and book hotels, flights, cars, cruises, vacation homes and more. They also offer discount coupons on top of deeply discounted rates. You can save up to 60% on bookings and get mobile-only deals. Download: Apple | Google Play

Gas Buddy: If you want to hop in the car and hit the road, Gas Buddy will tell you the cheapest gas prices nearby. Just tap the "Get Gas Near Me" button and it'll use GPS to show the closest gas stations and the lowest prices. Download: Apple | Google Play  

Free or Cheap Things to Do on Vacation

If you're on a tight budget, look for great deals at your destination. Many large cities offer city passes that let you pay a one-time fee to get access to numerous tourist attractions like museums, sightseeing tours and more. Check out CityPass for Chicago, New York, Houston, Toronto, San Francisco, Boston and more.

Many museums offer free days. With a little research, you could see incredible works of art at no cost to you. If you're going to Las Vegas, you need to check out their famous buffets. For a low fee, you can get access to all sorts of tasty delights —sometimes even steak and seafood. Even Disney World has plenty of free attractions, including nightly fireworks, outdoor movie screenings, monorail rides, and more.


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